A fellow raptor-lover / naturalist friend of mine lives on a boat by Point Richmond, and this winter she convinced the harbor master to install a platform on the breakwater in hopes that osprey would nest there. They did! Osprey have been continuing to be present in increasing numbers here in the Bay Area, and I was able to get to see the nest last week, just a week after the two babies hatched. It was difficult to see them because they are still so small, but I hope to return to see them in a couple of weeks when they are more visible.
Right when I got there, dad (named Lee) had just caught a nice sized striped bass and was looking for a place to start eating. The fish looks like it is saying “oooooooohhhhhhh shit.” Valid.
My friend said that he typically has been the one hunting, and the female sits on the nest with the young since they hatched. Evidently he seems to always get this size and type of fish, and there were reports about a year ago of a surge in the density of striped bass in the Bay. He usually finds a spot to eat the head, before he delivers it to the nest. Today though, he left a nearby perch possibly due to the high winds and he went right over the nest. But not before the gulls harrassed him for his dinner.
The gulls are always looking for an easy meal, and two great-blue herons that were on the breakwater were not pleased …
A double-crested cormorant popped up right by us on the dock, beautiful creatures.
Pops decided to re-locate after mom (Eileen) had fed herself and the tiny little hatchlings. He went on a perch just to the side of the nest to keep working on dinner, as the sky turned to pink and purple with the setting sun.
Special thanks to Shirley for all the work she does and her love for these birds.
It has been a rough start for a nesting pair of falcons in Oakland. Or rather, one of the brood. This particular nest has two young, and they fledged on Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, one of them ended up down on a roadway in traffic on Friday evening, right as I arrived to watch them. Of course I took off running, hopped a fence and ran to the road to attempt a rescue.
When I got to it, the fledge was hunkered down in the middle of one of four lanes of traffic. I managed to stop traffic, but not before a woman ran directly over the bird (without any wheels crushing it). In fairness, it is Oakland, and I probably looked like a crazy person because I had already taken off my t-shirt to grab the bird as I tried to stop traffic. Still pretty lame though.
I scooped the little guy (it was originally ID’d as a female, but it seems really small to be female, so I’m calling it a he for now). He had sustained damage on his lowere mandible, but otherwise seemed to be intact. I’m not sure if the damage occured due to a vehicle strike, or if he hit his beak on his way down to the roadway. The damage was severe enough that it warranted an exam by a professional. These new fledges are not great fliers, but they are even worse at landings. After the initial shock wore off, he was very fiesty and not happy about being put into a box – which is a good sign. A friend who is part of the falcon fledge watch took him to a wildlife rehab facility for assessment. His status is still questionable, but we are hoping that he can be released again into the wild. It could go any way at this point, but I am hopeful.
What is interesting are the circumstances of his crash landing. He had taken off on a practice flight, and it appeared that the adults actually were chasing him as if he were an intruder. It happened very fast, but initially we thought we were seeing the adults chase off an intruder, then we quickly realized it was the youngster. Each time he tried to land on a high perch, an adult swooped on him and he took back to the air until he finally tired out and went down on the road.
Maybe his parents were disciplining him like the Japanese parents who left their son in the woods recently. A bit overkill, ya think – tone it down a bit maybe? It was certainly an unusual event, and our assessment is purely conjecture. There is speculation that this pair of falcons is very young, so perhaps they just haven’t figured out the whole parenting thing just yet.
Another friend of mine saw and got a picture at another falcon nest recently of one of the adults actually helping a new fledge land!! The adult flew beside and slightly behind the younster, and actually assisted it up to a perch! Perhaps the parents at this nest were trying to help, but their efforts actually made the situation worse. Hard to say at this point.
Here are a few pics of the remaining family from the past few days.
In addition to being a smaller bird, the tiercel (term for a male falcon) happens to have much lighter plumage on his chest and belly, which helps when trying to tell them apart if they aren’t next to each other to know by size (female is bigger). The female has some strong barring on her entire underside and a bit of a buffy tone, whereas the male has a lot of white and the barring only extends partially down under his wings, not across the whole belly and chest.
The injured bird is incredibly beautiful, as I was walking back with him in my hands, he was looking up at me with giant, shining, dark, dark brown eyes. Pure Wild looking up at me. I’ll never forget those eyes. Hopefully he gets to take to the sky again soon!
a few weeks ago, i had the pleasure to accompany some friends and dedicated raptor-enthusiasts to see a bald eagle nest in alameda county that had two newly fledged juveniles. bald eagles have been slow to return to the Bay Area, and there are only about 16 nests currently in the vicinity from Monterey up to Mendocino County. a good sign to see them coming back.
they were comical to watch – flying was fairly easy, but the landing part was still a challenge. they would put their feet down 100 meters before their intended perch, and often overshoot it and have to fly around for a second attempt or find another spot.
they were begging for food from their parents – pa was about a mile away (out of ear shot, likely, from the incessant begging), and ma seemed un-phased by their constant calls, looking regal on her perch as she preened ignored their calls.
she did make one or two half-hearted attempts at a fish in front of us in our boat, but it was a leisurely sunday morning for all involved overall.
an amazing day out on the water with these majestic birds. special thanks to Mary, Roy, Carol, Megan and Cagney for this adventure!
so many babies right now! in addition to the exciting black hawk / red-shoulder nest and eyas (in my last post), i’ve gotten to see some other fun sites.
the three eyasses at the fruitvale bridge have successfully fledged and are learning to fly. when i was there last week, they were still unsteady in their flight, and one was doing a lot of “practice flapping” while gripping tightly onto the bridge span. so fun to watch. he took a little time to stare down at the strange two-legged staring up at him. when the adult female showed up (empty taloned), one of the young kept harassing her and pushing her off her perch. they are a hungry lot!
i stumbled on a nest that i hadn’t ever seen before, after hearing the young begging for dinner. this red-tailed hawks nest near wildcat canyon should be vacant very soon – these young are looking ready to go. i saw their parents hunting until well after dark trying to keep their bellies full, not an easy job!
i’m still hopeful that i’ll get to see some young harriers soon, for surely the behavior of the the pair (pictured in some previous posts) in the marsh by the bay indicates they are around.
First off, let me say that I don’t count myself as a “birder” – not in the commonly understood definition of it, anyway. I’m not into checking boxes by a species and keeping track of my life bird count. Don’t get me wrong, I understand why people do it, and I’m happy they enjoy it. It’s just not me (so don’t call me a birder).
But I do love birds, and find myself drawn to them in particular among all my relations in the plant and animal world. For me, it is the interaction, the connection, with these other lifeforms that is the real juiciness. That is what drives my passion to be out in nature – genuine connection. Often that takes the form of simply witnessing … which in and of itself is extremely rewarding. Sometimes it’s not even seeing the animal, just its track & sign. But occasionally there’s an actual interaction, and when it happens – on the animal’s terms – it is magical. Sometimes too, it’s the story that accompanies a sighting that makes it memorable. It’s always about the story though, isn’t it?
So the appearance of a black hawk in Sonoma County – while certainly alluring to birders who get to check another box on their list – is of more interest than just that. It is also a unique love story.
Not only has a black hawk (normally native to texas, arizona, new mexico and points south) chosen to make its home here, it has taken a mate of another species (no, it’s not me) – a red-shoulder hawk!
I started watching the nest about a month ago after being notified of its whereabouts by some friends at West County Hawk Watch. It is located in a tall eucalyptus tree, and not easily viewed due to a lot of other trees around it (and private property). My first day there, they were brooding and I got to see two nest exchanges. Initially the black hawk was on the nest, then after a bit of time she started to make some vocalizations that reminded me of a kestrel. A few moments later, a red-shouldered hawk appeared in the air and flew to the nest, taking over incubation duties for enough time for the black hawk to stretch and do a little bit of preening. Then she was back on the nest – but not until she grabbed another few branches to add to it …
I’ve returned to the nest a number of times since, most recently on Sunday. It was a very hot day with temperatures in the upper 90’s (f), and when I arrived the black hawk was in the nest panting (black feathers are an interesting feature on a bird that typically lives in the hot dry desert?!). Once I set up a scope, my eye was treated to what I had been hoping to see – a fuzzy white head! There is at least one baby!
I had heard that this same couple, the black hawk and the red-shouldered hawk, had young last year. I felt lucky to get to see it with my own eyes. What will this little creature grow up to look like? Time will tell, and I hope to have updates soon as the little one grows and starts to get its first set of feathers.
I never saw the red-shoulder on Sunday, likely because I was there during the hottest part of the day when there is little animal activity (they are smarter than me, evidently). The pictures were digi-scoped, so they aren’t the best quality, but it allowed me to capture this exciting occasion.
Thanks to Larry Broderick and Yvonne Motherwell for sharing the location of the nest and supporting efforts to document and spend time witnessing these amazing animals.
All across the Bay area baby birds are taking flight, and many of the peregrine falcon nests in the region are already empty. Last week, the three peregrine falcon nestlings that are in a cliff side nest a few hours north of San Francisco were practicing their flapping when we stopped by. Tightly gripping the left-over sticks from the old raven nest that makes up their eyrie high on the cliff, they they pumped their wings as if ready to fly into the sun.
I always find it to be such a profound metaphor of our own developmental processes in life. In what ways are we flapping our wings but still clinging to the nest, afraid to let go and fly? To use our wings for their true purpose, to allow us to fly in whatever way is appropriate for the unique feathers that we each wear?
The winds were blowing hard, as they often do in that area by the ocean, but the fog was attending to its business far out at sea so we were treated to a rare sunset right into the waters as we sat with the birds and the thousands of small sand hoppers that had erupted to take over the tidal zone of the beach.
Saturday when I stopped by, one of them had fledged. I learned later that it was the male (based on his bands, the birds had been banded earlier to help track them – there is one male and two females). He had positioned himself on a nearby ridge to the north, but when the female brought food into the nest, he had a strong incentive to battle the high winds and make his way back. It’s an endearing sight to see the perseverance of this little being who is still trying to figure out how to work his own body, and I find myself cheering him on as he awkwardly makes the short journey in little flights and hops from one ridge to the next, then up the cliff face. It’s comical at times, because they are like toddlers learning to walk – and with the strong winds, it made the effort that much more challenging.
After a few stops and breaks, he finally made one last noble attempt, leaving the safety of the cliff side and doing a few circles in the air to gain some altitude to get into the nest for his final meal of the day. Just before he took off though, he seemed to gather himself in a dignified manner and assume a regal pose just before he leaped. Again, I was struck by the analogy to moments in our own lives, when we gather ourselves closely around that light inside us and recognize having the strength, courage, and belief in ourselves to make that leap. I was grateful to bear witness and share that moment with him.
One of the adults, it looked like the female, came into the scrape to join them for dinner as I was leaving for the evening.
It’s quite a privilege and a gift to get to witness this, and to photograph it and share it is an honor.
Earlier this week we saw a little beak protruding up from the Anna’s hummingbird nest that I shared a couple of weeks ago …
This lone hatchling seems strong and is getting big quickly – they only stay in the nest for 20 days!
The egg was laid in the end of January, and just last weekend the baby hatched … pictures of the wee one coming soon. It is doing well, it seems strong but still is just a very tiny being with closed eyes in a comfy looking nest with lots of fluffy grey feathers lining its world. I wish I had a human-sized hummingbird nest to lounge in, it looks so nice.
Yes, Christmas will always be bald and white for me with regard to one definition of those terms at this point in my life, but this particular Christmas we were treated to other, more fun benefactors of those descriptors – a snowy Christmas eve yielded a white Christmas morning, and we got quite a show by some local nesting bald eagles.
These are presumably the same birds that have been nesting at this site for the past few years not far from my parent’s house in PA (see my post from last year here). It’s great to see them still successfully using this nest as it is more exposed and closer to human activity than most nests. This is actually a GOOD thing, as it indicates that most of the other more ideal nesting spots and territories around the Susquehanna River are already taken by breeding pairs.
The snow also allowed us to see who was using the landscape … snow tracks! It’s far from wilderness here, but this beautiful agricultural area still has quite a bit of wildlife that manages to survive in an area that continues to have more and more human development replace farms and forests. We were still able to find the tracks in the nearly melted snow of white-tailed deer, cottontail rabbit, and two red fox – and ultimately I was able to find what I think is the red fox den! A couple of red-tailed hawks were hunting in the cold air above us, and we spooked a coopers hawk with a meal from its perch in a grove of fir trees.